Eovaldi’s trust in slider ‘a work in progress’

1 year ago

ARLINGTON — Nathan Eovaldi wasn’t untouchable this spring, even if it seemed that way until his final outing on Monday. The 33-year-old righty, one of the Rangers’ most consequential offseason acquisitions, said he got everything he needed out of his Cactus League experience this year.

Eovaldi is healthy, stretched out and comfortable with his new surroundings after spending four-plus seasons with the Red Sox.

“I definitely think it was a solid spring,” Eovaldi said after allowing four runs — snapping a scoreless streak that spanned his first 13 innings of the spring — in Texas’ 4-4 exhibition tie with the Royals at Globe Life Field. 

Eovaldi, who yielded seven hits and one walk to go with six strikeouts over five frames, said he took more risks with his pitch selection in his final tune-up, hoping to see how his slider would play. He walked the leadoff hitter in the fourth, then allowed back-to-back homers to Michael Massey and Hunter Dozier on his 48th and 50th pitches. He recovered to retire six of the next seven batters, striking out three.

“I got in a few situations today where I got into some trouble and I wanted to trust [the slider] a little bit more, and it’s a work in progress,” Eovaldi said. “To me, it’s my fifth pitch. At certain times, I’m going to go back to my strengths and what I feel the most comfortable throwing, but in certain situations, I’m going to work on those secondary pitches.”

Like many starting pitchers who dealt with Spring Training soreness — including new teammate Jacob deGrom — Eovaldi will be on a restrictive pitch count, perhaps 75-80 pitches, early in the regular season, manager Bruce Bochy has said. Eovaldi threw exactly 80 against the Royals, with 55 strikes.

“It was nice being able to get up there, 80 pitches,” Eovaldi said. “Arm feels good — I had a couple long innings where I had time to get cold in the dugout and get hot again, and that’s one of the big things for me. Not necessarily the pitch count, just the ups and downs between the innings — long innings, short ones, making sure the arm gets nice and loose.”

Eovaldi pushed his spring tally to 19 strikeouts, with only two walks, in 15 1/3 innings. Monday’s fourth inning aside, Eovaldi racked up positive results throughout his Cactus League appearances.

A bout with tightness in his left side shut him down for a few days in early March, but Eovaldi is as ready as he’s going to get leading into his Rangers debut against the Phillies on Saturday.

“He’s ready, I have no concerns there. … I just love the way he attacks [hitters],” Bochy said. “We had to slow-play him a little bit [this spring] and to have him at 80 [pitches], we’re really happy about that. He’s good to go.”

Bochy looks to Adolis in CF

Leody Taveras is expected to miss the first week or so of the season due to an oblique injury — though likely not long enough to warrant beginning the year on the injured list. Bochy has a couple of options to plug the gap, starting with Adolis García, who started in center against the Royals. Bochy said before the game that García would start there again in Tuesday’s spring finale.

García started 25 home games in center last season and he has played 136 games in that position for Texas in three seasons. He was supposed to be the everyday right fielder this season.

“He’s played a lot of center field, he played a lot the last couple years. He does a very good job out there,” Bochy said. “We just want to check this box off there and get him a couple games. [We] probably will make a call the day before Opening Day who’s going to play center field.”

Make yourself at home, skip

Bochy is no stranger to Major League ballparks, having spent more than three decades there as a player and manager, but Monday marked the first time he’d seen a game from the dugout at Globe Life Field.

Bochy finally got to see how the ball bounces, so to speak, at the Rangers’ gleaming three-year-old retractable-roof stadium, still the newest in baseball.

“I’m glad to have a couple games here,” Bochy said. “Just to get a feel from the dugout, how I see the ball, it’s always an adjustment. As much as it’s good for the players, especially the new players, it’s always good for a manager, trust me.”